Irish raiders set to dominate Cheltenham again

Paul Nicholls labels Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi ‘nearly unbeatable’

Al Boum Photo is bidding for a third Gold Cup crown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Al Boum Photo is bidding for a third Gold Cup crown. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

Irish-trained runners are long odds-on to outscore their cross-channel counterparts at next month’s Cheltenham festival despite the prospect of a reduced team.

Some bookmakers make the Irish as short as 1-4 to once again get the better of the home team over the course of 28 races at jump racing’s biggest festival which starts in just over four weeks time.

Irish horses have mostly dominated the so called ‘Prestbury Cup’ competition in recent years including a record 19 winners in 2017.

Last year there were 16 Irish-trained winners in the 27 races while Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott each won seven races.

However this year travel restrictions due to coronavirus are likely to have an impact on numbers of runners travelling across the Irish Sea although the likely impact of that was downplayed on Sunday.

In 2020 there were 181 Irish trained runners at the festival with Mullins (56) and Elliott (42) contributing almost a hundred between them.

Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday that soundings the ruling body has taken within the industry suggest overall numbers are likely to decrease due to increased travel problems, particularly with staff and the requirement to self-isolate on returning to Ireland.

“I think the horses that were going for the owners sake, and the occasion, may not travel. But the real contenders obviously will. It’s more to do with owners not being able to travel. It’s just hassle and there are opportunities at home,” he commented.

Willie Mullins plans to have his usual strong team going to Cheltenham and is long odds-on to land the leading trainer award for an eighth time.

With 72 festival winners already, Cheltenham’s most successful ever trainer can anticipate a dozen ante-post favourites as well as lots of other fancied horses.

One of them, Chacun Pour Soi, has been described as “nearly unbeatable” by Paul Nicholls.

Britain’s leading trainer has a record six wins in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, including with the reigning two mile title-holder, Politologue, while Mullins has yet to win the race.

However Nicholls reported on Sunday: “Chacun Pour Soi looks nearly unbeatable on his run at Leopardstown the other day.

“He has got to act at Cheltenham – it’s a slightly different track and that is the only question mark I can see.

“Politologue always gives his all and is the most genuine and tough horse. I think this year will be his sixth festival. But if Chacun Pour does turn up in really top form he’s going to be hard for us all to beat.

“Politologue does like Cheltenham which is a big plus but I think he’s got plenty to do.”

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